Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ruminations on a Roadmaster

by CFlo


Let me start this with a disclaimer: I never thought I'd be a "V8 guy." My family history in cars is heavily biased towards small, fun to drive imports or practical utility vehicles with 4 or 6-cylinder engines. Dad had an Alfa Giulia, a Fiat 124 Spider, and now cruises in a Nissan XTerra. His dad drove an MGA coupe followed by a Cortina, a Dodge Colt, and a Triumph. Growing up, I got shuttled around in a FWD Mazda GLC sedan and various Toyota pickups. I read Hot Rod and Automobile magazines and lusted after big V8 domestic iron, but never had much firsthand experience with that type of vehicle.

Sure, I was exposed to pony cars through high school friends, but my own track record has woven through a long string of German, Japanese, and Swedish machines that are thrifty and handle pretty well, but don't sound like Freedom Ringing with the gas pedal mashed to the floor. That's why I'm relatively amused that I'm falling for a behemoth of a V8 powered wagon...the 1994 Buick Roadmaster formerly owned by DT Graphics Guru and UK Correspondent Kaibeezy, followed by Vince, our esteemed Editor-in-Chief. Ol' Vince tossed me the keys to the Roadmonster (as I'm calling it) a few weeks back, and I've been at the helm ever since.


My usual train of thought when evaluating a car goes something like this... How does this thing steer? Can I feel every little pebble through the wheel, and can I intuit the exact moment when the rear is going to break loose? Does it go around corners with verve and composure? Is the engine reasonably modern, lightweight, and does it make a rorty growl? Does it feel well screwed together? Can I stand on the brakes with confidence? Is it cheap, cheerful, and kind of quirky? If so, then I'm interested.


The Roadmaster fits none of those criteria, really. The steering has zero feel or feedback. The Dynaride suspension is so soft as to completely isolate the cabin from any feeling of being connected to the pavement. Heavy braking is met with an alarming amount of pedal travel, followed by a porpoise-like dive as the nose squats and the tail hikes its bustle waaay up in the air. The engine not only has an iron block, which doesn't strike me as odd, but iron heads. The interior has so many extraneous pieces of trim and plastic that it's not surprising in the least that lots of these bits are disassociating from one another, falling away from their intended positions while rattling and shimmying all around.


But let me tell you, what this thing does have is presence. Not only from an outside perspective - which it does - it's 18 feet long. But what I mean is that sliding behind the wheel onto the blue leather sofa that GM decided to install as the front seat...takes me into a different state of mind. I relax, slouch back, one hand on the wheel, and take a deep breath. Turn on some big band blues or atmospheric electronica or even the Cactus Blossoms, my new favorite retro country group. The view is the horizon... through the wide windshield and past the thin pillars and expansive side glass, the perspective is horizontal - the prairie, the plains, the high desert - the great American road.


That well respected LT1 V8 is ever at my command. Despite the hefty curb weight, the low-end grunt from this 2nd-gen Small Block Chevy is substantial enough to gather steam rather quickly in this big clipper. But more often than not, I find myself lightly feathering the throttle, letting inertia do its thing. The term slushbox is meant to be derogatory I think, but in this case the 4L60E transmission, descendent of the Turbo-Hydramatic, is just smooth, man. Once up to speed this car will coast for a surprising amount of time before any additional fuel is needed. There's no jerk, no fuss, just turbine smoothness and a low pleasant rumble from somewhere up ahead.


And back to the steering - while it's not communicative in the least, it is surprisingly precise, which is a rather strange dichotomy. It will go exactly where you point it and not waver in the least. The turning radius is respectably tight for the long wheelbase, and at around-town speeds I can take corners with some enthusiasm and not come out disappointed or ruffled on the other end. It's just easy to drive; that's the simplest way to describe the steering.


The practical benefits of a full-size wagon are pretty clear: lots of space for people and cargo. I haven't explored that side of it too much yet, but my small family seems to like riding around with room to spare. The two-way tailgate is just awesome. My 5-year-old daughter loves the idea of the way-back seat even though she hasn't ridden back there yet, and when asked "why do you like the Roadmaster so much?" she replied, "because right now they don't make this type of car with the big door in the back and the seat," with a huge smile on her face. I really couldn't sum that up any better myself; sage words from someone born in 2013.


Sure, there are things that need addressing - the AC still isn't functional, the brakes pulsate and seem a bit too mushy (even for a B-body), and the headliner is doing the annoying gravity thing. But I'm already planning mega road trips in this car and finding any excuse to drive it. It's cheap therapy and great stress relief to leave the heavy driving to someone else, and take a load off while lightly guiding this big Buick wherever I need to go.


Mostly it's just fun, in an entirely different way. I'm seeing rising interest in late model full-size Americana like this, and it'll be fun to ride that wave for a bit and see if it will become cool again. The next generation already likes it, so maybe that's the answer right there.


CFlo is DT's Technical Editor and co-founder. Tell him what you want to see from the Roadmonster, and it just might happen!

30 comments:

  1. These are great cars. I wish GM had kept the concept going - a full frame, rear wheel drive, V8 wagon. A true SUV - they can be made to perform better, handling, acceleration, etc. AND they will carry a full sheet of plywood- flat- with the tailgate and rear windo closed. No new so-called SUV can do that these days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. plywood, not quite, tailgate has to be flat even with the second row folded, but you *can* close the window

      impala ss and cop car parts fit - sway bars are often done

      Delete
  2. I owned a 1994, black with the virgin vinyl wood on the side. I did a full brake job on all four wheels for $130 5 years ago. Properly maintained this car will go 300,000 miles.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice write up, and an excellent description of what it is like to drive the Roadmaster. As far as requests go, how about an epic extended-family Drive-In Movie night? And in a few months, I think there needs to be a mission to get a Christmas Tree (or a festive palm tree, depending on availability). Keep up the great work, and Save the Whales!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. i always wanted to get a california whale tail license plate GOT KRIL and paint a ? on the bumper next to it

      [image src="https://i.imgur.com/4OQR98J.png" width="200"/]

      Delete
    3. I've been calling it the Roadmonster, the wife has chosen Boatmaster. But The Whale has a nice ring to it, and that plate would be awesome.

      Delete
  4. Great article nearly mirroring my thoughts of my old 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood. I swear it was the best car I ever owned. Excellent MPG on the highway. Comfy like recliner. Huge trunk swallowed everything and gently pulled the trunk lid closed with style. It pulled a boat\trailer with barely a grunt and was always a classy level with its rear air leveling suspension. Everyone always joked about it being a boat, but they always chose it for any trip with men or couples involved. And, it was totally reliable. I sold it to a massive dude who was going to rack up the miles work work. I'll bet he loved it as much as I did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ouch....it hurts to hear anything from 1993 referred to as "old".

      Delete
  5. And if I bought it back I'd call it my "new" car. Sold is old and just bought is new in my world!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We owned our Roadmaster until the day it could no longer meet smog regs in California... then, it went off to the crusher... great for carrying five kids and all their soccer gear!

      Delete
  6. If you like the Cactus Blossoms check out Wayne Hancock. Tons of good toe tappin' road songs. I would like to a see a "Will it fit?" feature where you attempt to load this thing with all sort or preposterous items.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm familiar with Hancock but will start listening to him more on your recommendation.

      "Will it Fit?" ...capital idea!

      Delete
    2. Good luck.. You're going to need bigger "stuff" :)

      Delete
    3. yeah, coz you already got a bigger boat!

      Delete
    4. First Episode: Kayak Rental Shop. How many boats will fit in the boat? I bet you get at least 4 without using the roof.

      Delete
    5. I forgot that "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs" was Wayne Hancock. That's one of my favorite old timey neo-country songs, but I thought it was Hank III for some reason. Hancock is more in keeping with Hank Sr.'s music anyway; sometimes Hank III is too in-your-face for me.

      Delete
    6. I couldn't agree more. Hank III does cover that tune, but it's Wayne's originally. "Cold Lonesome Wind" is another great tune off that album with a similar structure. I've been meaning to dig into Tulsa's western swing history a bit more. From what I recall that's where it originated and they have a theater there where they do shows similar to the Grand Ole Opry.

      Delete
  7. Perfect blend of country crossover to cruise in this wagon. Caution, for adult ears only!
    https://youtu.be/9FEH4dXjUkk

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm in a similar boat as you. Same kind of upbringing but I become a second owner of a 94 Fleetwood with 40k on the clock a year and a half ago. It's been my daily driver since. I agree with everything you wrote but the turning radius. I don't know if it's the extra 6 inches in the wheelbase compared to the Roadmaster but it's a pig turning. My old 07 F-150 and current 04 Ram 2500 do a much better job pulling u-turns and pulling into parking spaces. Who am I kidding, the Fleetwood really can't turn into parking spaces. I basically have to back into anything that's at 90 degrees and has cars on either side. It does make an amazing commute and long distance vehicle however. Just set the cruise and enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My dad had one of these briefly in 98 or 99. Purchased ostensibly for his wife w/o discussing the subject with her. Needless to say she didn't see herself driving a station wagon. My girlfriend at the time and I happened to be in Seal Beach for a visit and borrowed it to run out to Palm Desert to meet my mom for lunch. The thing that amazed me when we got in, was that the side of the door was a good 4-5 inches from where I expected it and at 6'2" from the driver seat I don't think I could reach the glove box if belted in much less the passenger side door. Don't get me started on the length or trying to parallel park the behemoth. Behind the wheel sinking into the Barcalounger like seat felt more akin to something in your living room (well not mine at the time) than a car. Yes, for someone whose first car was a not so subtly modified 72 Datsun 510, this was about as familiar as Latin (never took it). Hitting the freeway and mashing the pedal immediately resulted in an ear to ear grin. The car felt the same at 60 as it did at 95 with nearly a hint of road/engine noise, unless I was goosing the throttle of course. My girlfriend seeing the expression on my face as we streaked East, could only utter something along the lines of "Is this car coming back to Chico with us?" My Dad already had a set of 5 spoke Impala SS wheels waiting for rubber;I could already see shorter springs, stiffer shocks, larger sway bars in the future before I could even touch the motor.
    Unfortunately for me I had other priorities and no garage space. Now with a shop lots of space and a 1 year old it seems like a wise choice. I still wonder what could have been?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While standing in various roadside ditches of Forks County, holding a flashlight as the medics wielded the Jaws of Life, he had got a pretty clear idea of which cars were well built and which weren’t. If getting T-boned by a one-ton pickup at a rural crossroads didn’t reveal all of a vehicle’s structural deficiencies, then the Jaws of Life sure did.

      Forks County was an especially good place to learn these lessons. County Sheriff Kevin Mullowney was not the kind of politician who spent a lot of time worrying about policies, but he did have one hard and fast rule: never arrest drunk drivers. Follow them home if you like, but don’t arrest them. Methodical application of this rule over a twelve-year reign had led to a situation in which Forks County had the lowest drunk-driver arrest rate, and the highest traffic fatality rate, in the state of Iowa.

      So for quite some time, especially since the pregnancy, Clyde had been itching to swap the Celica for something with a little more stopping power. He had tried many arguments out on Desiree, told her many gory car-crash anecdotes. Desiree always had a devastating rebuttal handy: the Celica was “cute” and “a neat little car.”

      Delete
    2. Now, this very morning, with her mind occupied with long-range strategization, she had made the crucial error of telling him to ditch the Celica without saying anything about whether the replacement needed to be cute. Clyde changed the subject to something very different, ate hastily, excused himself, stripped all known copies of Celica keys from all known key chains, snatched the title out of the bill-paying desk, hopped into the cute little thing itself, and careened down the street. Just in case the Big Boss had second thoughts and tried to run him down, he did not look into the rearview mirror until he was out of shouting and waving range. Another torrential rainstorm had just commenced, which helped.

      Fortunately, Desiree always kept the Celica pretty clean on the inside, so that it would stay cute. Clyde threw the few remaining personal items into a garbage bag, ran the vehicle through a car wash so that the rain would bead up attractively on its hood, and then drove straight over to the First National Bank of NishWap, a structure that had been gleamingly modern twenty years ago and now looked older than its nineteenth-century neighbors. It had a gravel parking lot in back, and before going inside, Clyde swung through that lot one time, looking for a particular vehicle.

      It was still there. Clyde grinned and whacked the Celica’s steering wheel with the palm of his hand, feeling that everything was going his way for once. He parked right next to it; it was so heavy that he almost felt the Celica rocking toward it on its flimsy suspension, drawn in by its gravity.

      Delete
    3. The vehicle in question was a 1988 Buick Roadmaster station wagon. It was red inside and out. It possessed many luxury features, none of which Clyde cared about. He had done much theoretical car-shopping during the last nine months. At first he had paid careful attention to the various features and options. But as time went on, his mind became more focused, and he became fixated on one single number: namely, throw weight. And this vehicle right here weighed more than anything else you could buy. To exceed it, you had to go all the way back to the Lincoln Continentals of the mid-1960s. This beast had enough mass to drive all the way through a car like the Celica with only minor turbulence; but just in case—on the off chance you might hit two or three Celicas at the same time—it had an airbag, too.

      “I’ll trade you my Celica for the Roadmaster, straight up,” Clyde said.

      That Jack Harbison, branch manager, did not immediately chortle and scoff at this suggestion told Clyde that he almost certainly had himself a deal. For the first time in more than half a year, Harbison saw a way to get rid of the Murder Car.

      Delete
    4. The late owner of the Murder Car, a longtime EIU football booster and season-ticket holder, had come home unexpectedly early from a Twisters game and surprised his wife and her lover in bed. A fight had ensued. His head had got bashed in. Wife and lover had lined the inside of the Roadmaster with lawn and garden bags, laid the husband out in the middle, put more bags on top of him and an old rug on top of that. By the time they had got him out to Palisades State Park, he had died of asphyxiation or brain swelling—Barnabas Klopf, the coroner, flipped a coin and put down brain swelling. They had dragged him out over the tailgate and put him in a shallow grave at the edge of the woods. But the edge of the woods was just where hunters and their dogs were likely to be during the months that coincided with the football season, and so not more than a week later the body was found by someone’s golden retriever. Clyde himself had helped haul the body bag out to the main road.

      Now both of the killers were down in Fort Madison for a long, long time. The First National Bank of NishWap had foreclosed on the auto loan and repossessed the station wagon, and it had sat in their lot ever since, an object of morbid fascination to school boys who made lengthy detours to ride past it everyday on the way home from school, but not very inviting to anyone else.

      Except Clyde. Jack Harbison came out and gave the Celica a wary test drive, consulted his blue book, put his glasses up on his forehead, and rubbed his eyes. “Done,” he said resignedly, and within minutes Clyde was headed for home behind the wheel of the Murder Car.

      Delete
    5. that there is from The Cobweb, a 1996 novel by Neal Stephenson, genius and visionary, author of Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, and much more - also swordsman, so if i've clipped more than a fair use amount of text i hope i will get a few milliseconds to make it right

      Delete
    6. Great, now I'm going to have to think about whether Bud E. Luv ever disposed of any Vegas mob hit bodies in the back of the Roadmaster :-p

      Delete
  10. I have one just like the one in the picture here in NYC. I love it. It's perfect for just me and wife, and parking is a breeze...

    No, not the whale in the foreground... the smart in the back!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I just got my 1993 Buick RMW, same color but without the LT1 engine. One owner, 38K miles. Its my 6th wagon , I love them all, oldest one I had was a 1970 Chevy Wagon. Nothing better to cruise in, great gas mileage, 16mpg in town, 23 hwy. Parts available everywhere and still cheap. More and more people comment on the car very positively. The other day actually 2 little girls with their dad parked next to me extolled "dad, that's a cool car!" and then I heard him explain what it is:)

    ReplyDelete

Commenting Commandments:
I. Thou Shalt Not write anything your mother would not appreciate reading.
II. Thou Shalt Not post as anonymous unless you are posting from mobile and have technical issues. Use name/url when posting and pick something Urazmus B Jokin, Ben Dover. Sir Edmund Hillary Clint Eastwood...it don't matter. Just pick a nom de plume and stick with it.
III. Honor thy own links by using <a href ="http://www.linkgoeshere"> description of your link </a>
IV. Remember the formatting tricks <i>italics</i> and <b> bold </b>
V. Thou Shalt Not commit spam.
VI. To embed images: use [image src="http://www.IMAGE_LINK.com" width="400px"/]. Limit images to no wider than 400 pixels in width. No more than one image per comment please.